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Scout's Jeff Ellis on the Padres' 2016 draft

Jeff Ellis is the draft guru after he took over for Kiley McDaniel last year. He has previously been the head of the Cleveland Indians site, as well as working closely with Chris Crawford of Baseball Prospectus and has written guest articles for them as well as for ESPN.

Jeff was nice enough to give us some time to talk about this years Padres' draft.

With the baseball draft getting more attention from the average fan, how much should fans pay attention to yours, Baseball America's, or any other top prospect list for the draft?  Should fans be upset when their team takes a player ranked in the latter half of the top 100 with their #24 pick?

Jeff Ellis: The list more than anything is a guideline.  It might be a little bit more definitive in other sports, but in baseball you are trying to compare an athletic high schooler in rural Georgia to someone from a big time college.  Things like the Cape Cod League make it easier for those younger players more visible, but it is still not a scientific list.  Not to mention if a scout has seen players personally they are more apt to rank them higher. 

I think the biggest value in the list is for the average fan to learn about players they might not know about before and during the draft.  Unless you are a hardcore fan, you probably haven’t heard any names outside the first five or ten guys.  Someone like Josh Lowe or Carter Kieboom weren’t exactly household names going into the draft, but can still end up being great players in the majors.  I think these lists bring them more into the light.  You can usually make an argument that one player should be ranked higher than another, and at the very least it brings about good discussion.

As far as Hudson Sanchez, who was taken 24th overall, I think I had him higher than most on my board (71st).  I love the fact that he is extremely young, and there is plenty of data that shows that the younger the kid is the more the coaching staff can mold and develop them which can create more upside.  Sanchez has shown a really nice ability to make solid hard contact and has some power.  I do not know if he can stick at shortstop, but I would leave him at short until he proves he can’t stay there.  He is 6’2” so not too big to be a middle infielder.  Not to mention he should develop more power.  He is a pick that I expected to go in the second or third round, but is also someone that has a lot of upside potential. 

The Padres seemed to draft a lot of players who had upside potential, but also had considerable risks or at least question marks surrounding them. 

Eric Laurer is someone you got to see a lot over the past few years?  How do you think his skill set will stack up as he moves through the minors?

Jeff Ellis:  I saw him quite a bit last year as a sophomore and knew about him before he went to Kent State.  He was a kid that I was a bit surprised had no publicity around him after high school and was never drafted.  But you don’t often see freshman who were not drafted make it into the rotation as quickly as he did.  His stuff was fairly advanced even as an 18-year old.

Last year was a bit more up and down.  I saw him a few times, one in particular that stood out was against Ball State.  For the first three innings he was absolutely unhittable.  Then the last three innings he just lost command.  His pitches had great movement, but they kept on moving right off the plate. 

I saw him another two times this past year.  Once against Virgina at the beginning of the year.  His mechanics were off, you could tell he didn’t have his stuff going for him (again pointing out first game of the year) and still held a very, very, good offensive Kentucky team to just three runs.  I saw him later in the year against Toledo, a very bad offensive team, and he just absolutely shut them down over 13 innings.  I believe he stuck out 13 while only allowing two hits.

While he was downgraded for pitching in the MAC, he would have been a Friday night starter (#1 starter) on most teams in college baseball.  All in all, he is a very athletic, tall, pitcher with a clean repeatable delivery, and three pitches that all profile as average to potentially above average in the majors. 

From a mechanic perspective there is not any major issues that he needs to work on.  His pitches also don’t need a ton of refinement, he wont add velocity, which will allow him to move quickly through the system.  I think the goal for him is to get him up to High A this year so he can begin next year in Double A. 

We hear the term “advanced player” and that a prospect can move quickly through the minors.  We heard this a lot in regards to both Lauer and Cal Quantril.  Outside of just being in college, what makes a player “advanced?”

Jeff Ellis: For a hitter, a lot of the time the team is looking at their eye at the plate.  One of the easiest stats to look at is walks to strikeouts.  If a player can't lay off a breaking ball low and away in A-Ball he will have a real tough time making contact in the higher levels.  You will also look at those who grade out as having a really high hit tool, and can make good consistent contact.

For pitchers, you are looking at someone with a clean delivery.  Usually someone who is under 6’5”.  Usually over that amount their mechanics get constantly messy and become hard to repeat, making their ascent through the minors slower.  You also looking at someone who has filled out his frame to the point where you’re not expecting him to add more muscle or more mph on his fastball.  Then of course command is the biggest factor.  The strike zone doesn’t change, but hitters get a lot better at hitting mistakes.  Guys who move the quickest aren’t necessarily those who have the best stuff but know their game, already at their ceiling, and can control their pitches without too much trouble. 

The Padres had already selected two pitchers coming off Tommy John surgery, and then selected in the fourth round Joseph Lucchesi who Jeff Passan had wrote about in his book about being allowed to throw far too many pitches in a game. 

Is the notion of a pitcher throwing 150+ pitches in a game no longer a giant red flag with all the success of players coming back from Tommy John surgeries?

Jeff Ellis: It is still completely dependent on the player and the coach.  In the case of someone like Lauer who threw a lot of innings with Kent State, he still managed to keep his pitch count to around 110-115.  He also is someone who doesn’t have a violent delivery but rather smooth mechanically.  I think the more athletic they are the easier it is for them to avoid injury.  Someone like Lucchesi threw a lot of innings but he is viewed more of that crafty lefty that relies way more on deception than stuff.  More than anything he was probably more a money saving sign as a senior than anything else.  He could surprise you and his strikeout numbers are flashy, but most players that are comparable to him tend to struggle at higher levels and his deception can only take him only so far.  He might surprise, but he is not a player you are too worried about killing their arm. 

Tommy John surgery on a whole is on a rise, but whether teams are scared off by it completely depends on their workouts.  Both [Mason] Thompson and Quantril worked out for the Padres and they seemed confident in taking them.  I would be curious to see the data on pitchers who end up with Tommy John now compared to 10-15 years ago.  There is so many more eyes that when a high school coach allows a pitcher to throw 140 pitches in a game, twitter lights up and pitchfork mobs the coach.  Before social media the same thing could happen and no one would notice.  A high schooler could need Tommy John and his career was just over.  No one was the wiser.  But now with social media it is almost instant that we can learn about a high schooler all the way across the US needing Tommy John.  So is it really more frequent, or do we just hear about it more?

There is also the coaches allowing the kids to throw 140 pitches, and also the fact that with travel ball and off season practice the kids are pitching year round.  I think “back in the day” a kid might have partially torn a muscle, like the UCL for Tommy John, but when they went to play basketball, football, soccer, or other sports, they were using different muscles and the partial tear had time to heal on its own.  Its why you rarely see injury risk listed to a player who is a multi-sport athlete. 

As far as coming back from injury it is far from a guaranteed thing.  John Sickles did a retrospect last year where he looked at the pitching prospects who ended up being busts.  Of them something like 45% failed because of control, 45% failed because of injury, mainly Tommy John, and only 10% because of something else.  While a lot of players do comeback as good or if not better than ever, there are still plenty of prospects who had their careers completely derailed by Tommy John. 

 Before the injury Cal Quantril was seen as a 1-1 pick.  Outside of pedigree, what made him such a highly regarded prospect?

Jeff Ellis: As a freshman he featured four pitches that he could command that all profiled as at least average.  He was already sitting comfortably in the low 90s, and many scouts believe as a guy standing at 6’3” and under 200 lbs he could add some muscle and probably end up sitting 94-96 on the gun.  This wasn’t a top heavy draft, and someone that could feature three to four pitches that were already seen as MLB quality was going to go high in the draft.  Not to mention every team gets excited about bloodlines.  If for no other reason than they knew his dad and could reasonably assume that he will not have any nonbaseball issues that always seem to plague a few first rounders every year.  The Stanford thing doesn’t hurt either. 

Earlier in the year you had Buddy Reed as one of your top collegiate outfielders.  Please tell me he is more than just an all speed/glove light hitting centerfielder?

Jeff Ellis: Over the summer Nick Banks was considered the top outfielder in the draft.  Him, Reed, and Corey Ray all went out with Team USA.  By the end of the summer the talk had shifted to Ray and Reed.  Reed was viewed as the better prospect as he was taller, more athletic, switch hitter and had more power potential.  Playing with such a great program in Florida you would expect to see big numbers from him. 

Unfortunately he went out and regressed.   On my final board I had him all the way down to 78 because I was not sold on the offensive profile.  If you are drafting him you are hoping that the hit tool that we all saw over the summer comes back.  All the statistical indicators I have though showed that he will probably be a light hitting defense/speed guy.  He has the tools and the build, I just do not see it coming together. 

Reggie Lawson was ranked really low on everyone's boards including 65th on yours, but everyone praised the pick by Preller as drafting someone with first round talent who could be one of the bigger steals of the draft.  If he was a first round talent, why was he ranked so low?

Jeff Ellis: To not sugar coat it, he had a horrible spring.  No other way to describe it.  The Padres actually stole him from the Nationals/White Sox who I had heard were both already negotiating a contract with him.  He is another tall kid at 6’4”  with easy velocity and very athletic.  Whoever messed with his delivery though should be fired.  It messed up all of his pitches, and then when he tried to force his stuff through the new mechanics he got injured.  The team that takes him should just be able to let him pitch the way that he wants to pitch and reap the benefits.  I would not be surprised if the coaches arnt able to fix his mechanics, and by the end of the year he is a Top 10 prospect and could potentially crack the Top 100. 

If he did what was expected of him he would have been a Top 20 talent.  I probably would have had him just above Forrest Whitley (went 17th to the Astros), that was just how electric his arm was.  At the same time it is hard to rank someone who lost velocity, was hit pretty hard, and ended up injured, as a top 30-40 player on the board. 

Outside of the first days players was there any other pick you particularly liked?

Jeff Ellis: I really like the Lake Bachar pick.  I am always intrigued by two-sport athletes in college, he has a good story, was a kicker/punter on one of the top Division III football teams in the country, he didn’t pitch freshman year, then burst on the scene last year.  He tops out at 95 and has pretty good movement on all his pitches.  He is another good athlete and has the height and build that most scouts love.  He probably profiles more as a number four or number five starter, maybe back end bullpen. But I just love the story of a punter from a championship team putting up the type of numbers he did as a pitcher.

I like the Trevyne Carter pick as well, usually you don’t see teams “wasting a pick” by drafting players that they dont believe they can sign until the 15th round or so.  So the fact that the Padres took him in the 11th round means that they are pretty confident they can get him away from Tennessee.  Plus the Tennessee program isn’t exactly the most stable and well known even if they have produced a pair of first round bats. 

I also really like Boomer White, but have very little faith that he will sign.  Even though he is listed as a senior he still has one more year of eligibility.  I was talking to some people on draft night (Thursday), who thought Boomer was going to go in the 3rd round or so.  He made it clear to the teams that his dream was to play for Texas A&M.  He seems extremely happy there, and he keeps describing it as a dream come true.  If they can sign him away that would be a great get as he has a really good hit tool, but I just see him as a 23 year old senior living out his dream at Texas A&M.

As a whole how do you think Preller did on this draft?

Jeff Ellis: Overall they had five guys from my Top 100, which tied them with the White Sox for most in baseball.  They surprised me a little bit as I expected them to go more prep heavy, and instead they took guys like Reed, Lauer, and Quantril.  I was a bit surprised by Quantril at eight, but I had heard quite a bit that if he was still available the Yankees were going to gladly take him. So knowing that, the Padres had to take him at eight if they wanted him.  Laurer and Reed are both players that could move extremely quickly, even if neither of them end up being more than a fourth outfielder and back of the rotation starter.  They would be young and controllable which is something every team needs.  They also took some high upside players in Sanchez, Lawson, and Thompson who have the potential. 

Considering Preller hacked a part the system trying to go for it all last year, they needed quite a bit of talent in the minors.  Just based on profiles and talent they probably added four or five guys that could crack the Top 10 or 15 depending on other trades or signings.  Usually if you add one or two guys from a draft class to the Top 10 it is a success, this class might be able to add close to five players.  So at least right now, it has to be viewed as a good draft.  

Tomorrow we conclude our draft pundit series with an interview with Baseball America's JJ Cooper.

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